Texas AG outraged by Senate health care provision

AP News
Posted: Dec 24, 2009 9:28 AM

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is vowing to fight what he called an "outrageous" decision to give Nebraska multimillion-dollar tax breaks as part of a deal to get enough votes for the health care overhaul working its way through Congress.

Abbott, a Republican, said Wednesday that he and several other attorneys general will explore legal options in telephone meetings planned for next week. The coordinated attack from several Republican attorneys general, initiated in South Carolina, now includes officials in 10 states, Abbott said.

According to a list released by Abbott's office, the attorneys general in Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Washington state, along with the attorney general-elect in Virginia, are also involved in the discussions.

In addition, high-ranking Republicans in Georgia, New York and Tennessee _ grabbing hold of a hot new political issue _ have begun advocating that their states participate in a possible lawsuit.

Abbott said the provision, which helped win Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson's vote on the massive health care bill, was unfair and possibly unconstitutional. It's part of a Senate bill that was approved Thursday morning.

"From a fundamental fairness perspective this is both wrong and outrageous," Abbott told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "Usually when that is the case you can either find law that will support your position or a court who will agree with you."

Abbott said he and other attorneys general are preparing a legal analysis and plan to hold more telephone meetings early next week. He said the legal analysis was still in its "early stages" but characterized his fight against the measure as being on the "top of our list" of priorities heading into 2010.

"If it is upheld, then there really are no limitations in actions that Congress can take where literally they're taking taxpayer dollars from one state and giving it to another," Abbott said.

Republican critics of the measure are calling it the "Nebraska Compromise" and the "Cornhusker Kickback," a reference to the state's nickname. Nelson, Nebraska's lone Democrat in Congress, held out as fellow Democrats worked to get 60 votes to cut off a GOP filibuster and the bill was amended to shield Nebraska from the cost tied to expanding Medicaid programs.

Nelson has vigorously defended himself, saying he sought no special deal for Nebraska while chalking up the criticism to political opportunism and distortion. A call to his Washington office Wednesday landed into a voicemail box that was too full to receive messages.

The Nebraska provision has been estimated to cost between $45 million and $100 million in published reports.